Take a few minutes this weekend to think about the dignity of work in general, and your work in particular. Your work, whatever it is, is your opportunity to glorify God by serving others. From Jordan Ballor:
The first great commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” We are to love God in all we do. This includes that portion of our day which we spend at work. We are, quite simply, to show our love of God in our work.
It is one thing, however, to say that we are to love God in our work. It is quite another to do so. What does loving God in our work really look like?
It is here that the second great commandment comes to the fore: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” As the Christian writer Lester DeKoster puts it, at its core “work is the form in which we make ourselves useful to others.” It is in putting ourselves in the service of others that our work also finds meaning. For in making ourselves useful to others, we do for them as we would have them do for us.
And this is, as DeKoster puts it, the great secret connecting work and the two great love commandments. For in making ourselves useful to others, we make ourselves useful to God. This is how we show our love for God: in serving others.
After all, that’s how he shows his love for us. The incarnation is God’s entrance into a life and death of service for human beings. The Apostle Paul makes this connection as he writes, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” He says this just before he points to the example of Christ as the one who serves others, “taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” This is the good news of Jesus Christ, for our life and death, our rest and our work.
If you’re interested in reading more about how Christianity and the Gospel relate to your work, I recommend Matt Perman’s blog and book (What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done).
David Brooks’s op-ed in the New York Times on “The Mental Virtues” reminds us that “character tests are pervasive even in modern everyday life. It’s possible to be heroic if you’re just sitting alone in your office”:
Thinking well under a barrage of information may be a different sort of moral challenge than fighting well under a hail of bullets, but it’s a character challenge nonetheless….
[T]he mind is embedded in human nature, and very often thinking well means pushing against the grain of our nature — against vanity, against laziness, against the desire for certainty, against the desire to avoid painful truths. Good thinking isn’t just adopting the right technique. It’s a moral enterprise and requires good character, the ability to go against our lesser impulses for the sake of our higher ones.
Montaigne once wrote that “We can be knowledgeable with other men’s knowledge, but we can’t be wise with other men’s wisdom.” That’s because wisdom isn’t a body of information. It’s the moral quality of knowing how to handle your own limitations.
Citing the book Intellectual Virtues, Brooks lists ways we can work on the virtues needed at the computer keyboard. For example, regarding “firmness,” he says, “You don’t want to be a person who surrenders his beliefs at the slightest whiff of opposition. On the other hand, you don’t want to hold dogmatically to a belief against all evidence.” Here are the six he describes:
Ancient societies and religion were not known for their care for the sick and dying. Christians who often risked their lives to care even for non-Christians represented a radical difference in the values taught by the Bible than anything else known at that time.
It was common in ancient societies, including Rome, which saw the inception and rise of Christianity, to abandon the sick and dying. Roman religion did not teach followers to care for the helpless.
Destitute families lacking any resources to help sometimes even abandoned the chronically ill to die. In Rome, sick or elderly slaves were routinely left to waste away on Tiber Island. Unwanted children were often left to die of exposure. If a father decided that the family couldn’t afford to feed another child, that child would be abandoned on the steps of a temple or in the public square. Almost without exception defective newborns were exposed in this way. (Christian History magazine)
In ancient Greek religion, the god Asclepius was sought for healing, but there was no ethic of caring for the sick and dying that this god encouraged.
Against this backdrop, Christianity was a distinct contrast. The Bible teaches the intrinsic value of every human being, and this is what motivated early Christians to begin caring for their ailing. Church leaders followed the biblical admonition to visit the sick. Congregations and communities set up formal practices for care. And as this became common among Christians, they were challenged to care for non-Christians, as well.
In the third century AD, an epidemic swept across Northern Africa, Italy, and the western empire. As many as 5000 people a day were dying in Rome. The sick were abandoned in the streets and the dead left unburied. In Carthage, the Christians were blamed for the disease, and the emperor ordered Christians to sacrifice to their gods to end it. Carthage's bishop, Cyprian, encouraged Christians to care for the sick and dying. They buried the dead and risked getting sick by taking in the sick. This was repeated other times in the early centuries of the church during epidemics. Christians introduced a new concern and standard of care for sick people.
Rodney Stark, author ofThe Rise of Christianity, argues that some of the marked growth of the church in the early centuries can be attributed to care and compassion Christians showed for the sick. He tracks increased conversion rates during three plagues: the Antonine plague (2nd c.), the Cyprian plague (3rd c.), and the Justinian plague (6th c.). Christians demonstrated their love for God and biblical values, and they offered a very attractive witness.
Their example has been followed through the history of the Christian church. Catholic orders were devoted to care. Mennonites in Holland and Quakers in England formed societies to improve health care. Modern medical missionaries carry on in this mission today.
Today, we take for granted the responsibility to care for the sick regardless of religious convictions. It was Christians practicing what the Bible taught them that began caring for those in need.
I appreciated these words from Paul Matthies on being a single person in ministry. And in the end, his words are true for you in whatever difficulty you find yourself: As you find the best way to glorify God in your situation, remember that a time of need is an opportunity for you to experience God’s grace.
I’m honestly not certain if I have a call to lifelong singleness. Do I have a desire to be married? Yes. However, that desire waxes and wanes. Regardless, I want to be committed to the gospel ministry above all else, right now.
A friend once shared this piece of advice: “Run after Jesus with all you are. Then, one day, you may look up and see a woman beside you running on the same path. But regardless of if that day comes, you gain Christ in the end, whether she comes or not.” I see that as very helpful—pursue Jesus! If He doesn’t give a spouse—you still get Him. And if she comes, yet she passes away—you are still grounded in Him….
[N]o matter what portion we’ve been given, we should ask: “What does it look like to glorify God in this season?” For me, the wrestle begins and ends with that question: How do I bring glory to God in my singleness? I gain confidence when I live within my intended purpose—to bring God glory.
At least eight times in scripture, suffering is said to have a reward—joy. At times, I am conflicted, asking “Why would God give me the desire for something like marriage if He does not plan on granting it immediately…or ever? Why not take the desire away—why make me suffer in this way?” Here I take heart from Paul’s example in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, where he rejoices in his sufferings. While the circumstances were different, the principle applies the same. I don’t have to just cope with this desire, but can rejoice in my time of need—because I get to experience the sufficiency of grace.